Earth. Vast, ancient, and magnificent. Our birthplace… our home. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Since it is Earth Day, after all, let’s take a moment to wonder at this planet we call our home.
There are those who say that we humans have been a scourge upon the earth; that we have done nothing but plundered and raped the bounty that nature has to offer. Humanity is a cancer upon the surface of the Earth. Just take a look at how the climate has changed since we’ve industrialized. However… did you know that the Earth as we know it isn’t as old as we think it is? How old do you think it is, as we know it?
- 5 billion years old.
- 5 million years old.
- 5 thousand years old.
Notice that the order of magnitude decreases each time. So how old is the Earth…? #1? Nope. #2? Nope. #3? Even that is too old. Now, I know, the planet itself has been around for about 4.5 billion years, but the planet has changed dramatically over the ages. It’s not always been the home we’ve known it to be!
4 Billion years ago
Four billion years ago, our planet was a newborn molten slag, with no life, an inhospitable atmosphere, and a temperature above the boiling point of water. Needless to say, no life could exist in such an environment.
1 Billion years ago
By one billion years B.C.E. (before the common era), our planet had changed drastically. It had cooled down enough to allow life to form, and form it did. The first lifeforms on this planet were born in the seas, and as a byproduct of their metabolism they pumped oxygen into the atmosphere, the first “pollutant”, which eventually made it possible for life to leave the seas and embark on land.
Over these three billion years, our world went through a global ice age, went out of it, and the sun slowly grew in brightness and strength.
200 Million years ago
By two hundred million years, we were way past the Cambrian explosion of life. Life had colonized the seas, the land, and the skies above. The world back then was a tropical paradise, rich in carbon dioxide and oxygen and rich in life. This was the age of the dinosaurs, massive creatures the likes of which the world has never seen before or since, and giant insects nearly as large as a full-grown man.
20 Million years ago
Of course, the dinosaur age didn’t last forever. After thriving for hundreds of millions of years, a giant meteor impact took care of them for good. However, in the wake of the destruction, there was room for another type of creature to grow and prosper: the mammal; our ancestors.
2 Million years ago
Two million years ago, some of those ancient mammals had evolved into monkeys. Of those monkeys, some decided to come down from the trees, walk on two legs, and stand together in the plains. They acquired a taste for meat and learned how to use tools to fashion weapons, which they used to defend themselves against animals as well as other proto-humans. This is the beginning of our history.
20 Thousand years ago
By twenty thousand years ago, humans were in almost every corner of the globe. We had mastery of fire and dominion over all life on the earth. By twenty thousand years ago, humans were having a significant impact on the world. During this time, there was an ice age in which a stronger and bigger-brained relative of ours, the neanderthals,thrived in the cold. They had culture, language, and buried their dead, just like we do. But they were not us, and when the ice age ended, so did they.
11 Thousand years ago.
By eleven thousand years ago, the ice age was ending and it wasn’t long before the agricultural revolution would begin. This is where our modern history begins, when we started to change our habitat to adapt to us, rather than the other way around. The agricultural revolution led to the biggest land use changes the world had ever seen up until then. After the ice age ended, there was a warm period known as the Holocene climactic optimum where the world was a little warmer than it is today; agriculture and humanity thrived, and the Sahara desert was not a desert, but a green paradise.
So, what is the point of talking about the history of our planet? We humans tend to fall into a “time trap”, where we think that things were either always the same or they were better in the past, and it’s only recently that we’ve been screwing things up. The problem is, none of us have been on this planet long enough to see that it has always been changing and that it is always evolving. From billions of years ago to today, the climate, surface, and landscape of our planet has been under constant change. In fact, the only thing that hasn’t changed is change itself.
Legend has it that a few thousand years ago, three hundred brave Spartans held a narrow pass between a mountain and a sea-side cliff against an army of hundreds of thousands; in doing so, they gave their homeland enough time to prepare for the massive invasion, and in doing so helped to save the seeds of western civilization. Legend has it that this battle was held at Thermopylae, or the “hot gates”.
If that battle happened today, the Spartans would not have the defensive advantage they had thousands of years ago, and they would possibly be toast. Why? Well, the cliffs no longer exist! Due to sediment deposits, they have been replaced with a gentle slope down toward the sea. Take a look:
The ancient cliffs were once inside of where a modern highway now lies. These changes happened long before the modern industrial age, and are all a part of how our world is constantly changing. Therefore, on Earth Day, I don’t think we should lament humanity’s presence on our planet and detest every change that comes whether or not the change is caused by us, since the world is always changing, but we should instead celebrate it; that nature gave birth to a species intelligent enough to understand and appreciate the beauty of this world. A species with potential to even spread life beyond this world, thus ensuring its survival.
Some of the changes are not necessarily desirable, of course. Us humans have been having an increasingly heavy impact on our world, through deforestation, industrialized agriculture, and industrial society in general, with all of its goods and ills. Although some change is inevitable, we could definitely improve on some of these aspects!
I believe the answer is in moving forwards, not backwards. There are many people that think that if we got rid of the factories and cars, then everything would be peachy. However, could you imagine our world population going back to using horses and using wood for fuel? All the trees would disappear, the streets would be filled with disease, and life would once again be brutish and short, as it has been for much of our history. No, I believe the answer is in moving forwards, through technological improvements that reduce the negative impacts that we have on the environment and increase manufacturing efficiency, raising the quality of life for everyone.
There is also another method for improving things: voting with your dollar. Take the fast food industry, for example. This industry’s size is well north of $100 billion in size in the U.S alone. They are obviously a big contributor to unhealthy food habits and obesity, among other things. They also have a huge impact on the agricultural market in terms of buying power and agricultural practices. Now imagine if everyone stopped eating fast food as often, perhaps every two weeks instead of every week, or every month instead of every two weeks. The industry’s size would collapse in half. Now if those same people also made a commitment to buy healthy food instead and they demanded natural beef instead of hormone-pumped corn-fed beef, could you imagine the impact that this would have on the agricultural industry?
Markets can be very efficient in providing goods to consumers, but they make no judgment about the goods they provide: consumers are the ones that make that judgment. If consumers want to buy crap, someone in the market will provide it. If consumers want to buy gas guzzling cars, some company in the market will provide it. If consumers want to buy fur from endangered species… again, some unscrupulous fellow in the market will provide it.
The consumer therefore is the real force for change. If you detest current agricultural practices such as corn-fed beef, stop buying it. If you prefer fuel-efficient cars over cheaper gas guzzlers, then don’t buy the gas guzzler. If you are concerned about fishing practices, for example the depletion of orange roughy, then stop eating it.
The power of money acts is as fast and as effective as the power of the word. Each dollar you spend is like a vote; be even more responsible in how you spend those dollar than in how you would vote for a political candidate. If you truly want to make a difference not only on Earth Day, but on every day, then tell your family and friends about the issues you believe in the most, and put your money where your mouth is.
So, how do you feel about Earth Day? What would you like to see changed in the world? I’d love to hear about it from you guys.